April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Stephen Underwood
  • 439th Airlift Wing

The month-long campaign, which first began in 2001, seeks to raise public awareness about sexual violence, advocate for survivors, and educate communities on how to prevent it, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

Nationwide, 81% of women and 43% of men report experiencing some form of sexual harassment or assault over their lifetime. In addition, nearly one in five women in the United States report experiencing completed or attempted rape at some point during their lifetime, according to the NSVRC.

Westover’s Sexual Assault Response Coordinator Tamara Thompson said that the month allows time to raise awareness on the resources available for survivors. Thompson implements and manages the base Sexual Assault Prevention & Response (SAPR) program and is the main point of contact for reporting, response and victim advocacy.

The base SAPR office now has a new expanded space in building 1100. 

“We have a new dedicated consultation area for survivors to have privacy and they can have therapy appointments or consultations in private,” Thompson said. “It’s a place to get things done, that you just can’t in your normal office. It’s a full utilization of space from phones to computers. The computer is off-line so you don’t need a CAC card. It’s a place that’s meant to be confidential.”

Thompson said any military member on base can use the area as a private space.

The Department of Defense, which implemented SAPR policy beginning in 2005, has since expanded the program over the last two decades to ensure military personnel are protected from sexual violence and harassment.

Several changes have recently been implemented, offering greater protections for reporting incidents for survivors, while expanding existing programs to non-military DoD personnel.

“The more options gives survivors more of a choice,” Thompson said. “More options also means more empowering for survivors.”

One of the major changes includes an expansion to the CATCH a Serial Offender program. The CATCH Program gives adult sexual assault victims who filed restricted reports, certain unrestricted reports where the name of the suspect is not reported to law enforcement, or no report an opportunity to anonymously submit information about the suspect to help the DoD identify serial offenders.

“We have the perfect environment to move people. Today you’re here, but tomorrow you’re in Germany or Japan. So the DoD is trying to track people who are offending and if they are doing it in different locations” Thompson said.

In the past, any military members participating in CATCH needed to fill out a DD Form 2910, or unrestricted victim reporting form, but now that form is no longer required, Thompson said. The idea is to make the reporting process as easy and confidential as possible.

The program, which was previously only available to military members, is now open to all members, including former service members and DoD civilians if the subject is still in service. 

“The DoD really wants to catch serial offenders,” Thompson said. “That’s why they have opened it up more broadly. The program puts the name of the serial offender in a database but does not press charges unless an unrestricted report is filed. If the person comes up as a match with a previous complaint in the system, the person can decide if they want to file an unrestricted report.”

Another major change includes Airmen who accidentally disclose an assault to someone in their chain of command. Airmen can now maintain a restricted reporting option as long as they don’t accidentally disclose an assault with a law enforcement officer or member of OSI.

“A lot of times at Westover, people are very friendly within their chain of command, and sometimes will say that they were sexually assaulted in conversation,” Thompson said. “In the past, they were forced to do nothing or have an unrestricted report. But now, if you accidentally disclose, you still have the ability to have a restricted report.”

Restricted reporting is available to all military members and their dependents, age 18 and above. This reporting option provides medical treatment, mental health services, chaplain services, victim advocate support, and other referral options, without launching an investigation or notification of the victim's chain of command. A military member may file a restricted report with the SARC, VA, a healthcare provider, or a chaplain.

Unrestricted reporting, the option that involves law enforcement, is available to both military and civilians over the age of 18. This type of a report allows for medical treatment, counseling, command involvement, and an official investigation of the crime and suspect involved.

In addition, advocacy services now include sexual harassment along with restricted or unrestricted reporting options for victims of sexual harassment.

Thompson said she encourages anyone with questions to stop by her office at Building 1100 or contact her at 413-557-7272. In addition, the DoD Safe Helpline provides secure, confidential, and anonymous 24/7 sexual assault help and crisis intervention for military members. The DoD Safe Helpline can be reached at 1-877-995-5247.